Interrogating its history in recent months, Agnes Scott College has clearly seen one thing: the present-day invisibility of many who helped establish the private women’s liberal arts school.
Trained by StoryCorps through a Mellon Grant to gather oral histories, Agnes Scott has been interviewing longstanding members of its Decatur community, centering their stories after discovering that one of the key players behind one of its iconic buildings had been all but erased.
Samuel Harper, a Black craftsman, was instrumental in building the school’s bell tower, an architectural landmark that plays a key role in student life. Mr. Harper married into the Oliver family, whose name previously graced the street that is now Commerce Drive. The road circles downtown Decatur and runs just in front of the Agnes Scott campus.
“There is no physical evidence of where that community was, that all of that community was moved,” says Lee Zak, Agnes Scott’s president. “So what we wanted to do was to recognize that not only did we have founders to celebrate, both religious and financial, but we have people who are responsible for founding and creating and building our campus.”
The idea that the achievements of many in society go unsung forms the thematic basis for the college’s fourth annual Women’s Global Leadership Conference coming up next Wednesday, Oct. 18.
Dr. Zak said the conference will explore how the inability to see the contributions of women, minorities and other marginalized groups has often hindered economic inclusion, social mobility and the creation of generational wealth.
“Oftentimes there are people we do not see who are so important to our history, to who we are,” Dr. Zak told Global Atlanta in an interview.
This follows the first three years of timely programming looking at voting rights, climate change and inclusive leadership, always with a female-first lens. Positive feedback has persuaded the college to forge ahead with the conference.
“We wanted to be sure that we could serve as a convener for thought leadership that focused on topics that were global, and in particular were important to women and also underserved populations, because Agnes Scott has no ethnic racial or socioeconomic majority on our campus. So diversity is very important to us.”
This year’s all-female speaker slate includes Amani Ballour, a Syrian doctor who worked literally underground to save lives throughout the country’s civil war. She is the subject of “The Cave,” a documentary that sheds light on achievements that remained unseen for five years as Dr. Ballour’s neighborhood endured bombardment from government forces. WABE “Closer Look” host Rose Scott will conduct a conversation with Dr. Ballour, who recently was awarded the Council of Europe’s Raoul Wallenberg Prize, to kick off the conference.
Dr. Zak said philanthropy will take center stage in the second panel, which will feature Jill Savitt, president and CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights; Fay Twersky, president and director of the Arthur M. Blank Foundation; and Saadia Madsbjerg, vice president of global community affairs at Coca-Cola Co.
Women leaders from AT&T, Blackrock and Procter and Gamble will then offer insights on inclusive workplaces that help foster success for people of all backgrounds before actress and entrepreneur Kim Fields closes the event, also in conversation with Ms. Scott from WABE.
The event dovetails with existing efforts to integrate global education into Agnes Scott, Dr. Zak said.
That includes the award-winning SUMMIT global leadership program, which offers a weeklong international experience to every incoming Agnes Scott student. The model has helped Agnes Scott garner recognition as the most innovative liberal arts college in the country six years running.
Incidentally, the college is also No. 2 for social mobility according to U.S. News and World Report, Dr. Zak said.
Students and community members who attend the all-day event will quickly see that local lessons are applicable to problems around the world and vice versa, the president said.
“What’s local is global — what’s happening in Decatur and Atlanta is happening all around the world,” she added.
Dr. Zak added that the program has been added as part of InnovATL, an umbrella initiative designed to showcase various technology and innovation events around Atlanta to highlight the city’s ecosystem this fall. Dr. Zak sits on the innovation and entrepreneurship advisory committee of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.